A federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction Friday blocking the White House from requiring federal workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, although the ruling came months after the White House said that 95% of federal workers were already in compliance.
The Justice Department said it would appeal the ruling.
President Joe Biden announced in September that more than 3.5 million federal workers were required to get vaccinated by Nov. 22. He said that there would be no option to get regularly tested, aside from some religious or medical exemptions.
After the deadline passed, the White House said that more than 95% of federal workers were in compliance with the mandate. On Friday, the administration said that 98% of federal workers are vaccinated or have sought medical or religious exemptions.
“We are confident in our legal authority,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday after the ruling.
The judge in Texas, Jeffrey Brown, ruled that opponents of the mandate for federal employees were likely to succeed at trial and blocked the government from enforcing the requirement. Brown was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas by President Donald Trump in 2019.
Brown, who is based in Galveston, Texas, said his ruling — in a lawsuit filed by the group Feds for Medical Freedom — was not about whether people should get vaccinated against the coronavirus. He wrote that “the court believes they should.”
“It is instead about whether the president can, with the stroke of a pen and without the input of Congress, require millions of federal employees to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment,” he wrote in his 20-page ruling. That, he said, was “a bridge too far.”
He said less invasive measures could protect public health, like masking, social distancing and remote work.
Last week, the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers, dealing a blow to a key element of the White House’s plan to address the pandemic as cases resulting from the omicron variant are on the rise. In that case, conservative justices deemed the policy an improper imposition on the lives and health of many Americans.
But the court allowed a more modest mandate requiring health care workers at facilities receiving federal money to be vaccinated.
The administration’s third major vaccine requirement, which was aimed at employees of federal contractors, was blocked by a federal judge in December.